Jan Conn, poet, biologist.
It is Jan’s biography, I believe, that makes her work completely different from anyone else’s, that gives layers to her words that we can unravel. She writes with the vivid imagery of Latin America fuels Isabel Allende’s genius, yet the fact that she is a scientist drives all of the mysteries within her words. These mysteries meld ancestral spirits into the cells and veins and wings of vines and birds and dust. Conn is a nouveau alchemist of sorts, knowing transformation is indeed the stuff of cellular biology, the very thing that will save ecology if we can. As a scientist, she spends her time chasing mosquitoes, and it is this attention to the smallest of things that brings ours to the big ones. Conn does sweat the small stuff, for it is the very stuff of life.
And if life is made up of atoms and of cells and molecules, literature is made of up of alphabets and words, funny black marks on a page or stone tablet that magically record the way we see the sky, the way we feel anger, the way we make love or go mad. Conn takes us to “the fable of pink, the agony of yellow.” We visit rooms “crammed with blue statuettes of the dead.” We are transported to a world with guavas and saffron and copper-winged chameleons and antelopes and alligator skulls.
“The Henry Moore bronze/resembles a reclining chacmool/ on whose chest fresh hearts were laid.“
The ancient mythology of the Americas, all fury and magic and hotheaded passion and sacrifice, and she brings these potions and powders and temples and mermaids and warriors and virgins and volcanoes into the unruffled cool of Canada. It is strange and sublime to hear a scientist tell us with conviction that the gods are alive.
Lorette C. Luzajic is the author of poetry collection The Astronaut‘s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos, and of Weird Monologues for a Rainy Life (Irreverent Ramblings from the End of the World).